Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

In 1993, someone had the idea to pair modern rock/alternative bands with hip-hop artists and ask them to create original songs for the soundtrack to the movie Judgment Night. Among the collaborations were Pearl Jam with Cypress Hill, Ice-T and Slayer, Del the Funky Homosapien with Dinosaur Jr, and Teenage Fanclub with De La Soul. I think if you were going to pair Teenage Fanclub with any hip hop act, it would pretty much HAVE to be De La Soul (or maybe A Tribe Called Quest). The resulting track – “Fallin’” – is much more De La Soul than the Fannies, but the band adds some subtle instrumentation and backing vocals (the chorus is built around a sample of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”). I also recall the Biohazard and Onyx title track collaboration on this album, which was really good, too. Let the boys be boys, I guess. The other notable such union is Public Enemy and Anthrax on “Bring the Noise,” but that was an organic pairing born of mutual respect, and predated Judgment Night by about two years.

What I Think of This Album

My absolute favorite Teenage Fanclub album, Grand Prix is without doubt the most consistent work of the band’s career, and represents the end of the time when they would still play their guitars loudly.

Notably, guitarist Raymond McGinley for the first time almost matches bassist Gerard Love and guitarist Norman Blake in song quality and quantity. Awarded the lead off track, McGinley does not disappoint with the harmony-dripping “About You,” resplendent in chiming guitars, an engaging, brief solo, and a superb bass line. “Verisimilitude” is all arpeggios in the verses and an irresistible keyboard line in the chorus; McGinley has the least appealing voice of the three but his understated performance here works very well, though the song might be a little too long (it doesn’t help that the lyrics just repeat).

His other two offerings aren’t nearly as enjoyable, but they are – as is the case with almost every TFC song – not unlistenable. “I Gotta Know” is a bit ponderous, but the two short solos are a highlight. “Say No” is also a bit subdued for my tastes – it would have fit in well on forthcoming Songs From Northern Britain – but is admittedly a very well constructed and arranged song, with some compelling harmonies and nice guitar work at the end. Still, this album is McGinley’s notice that he won’t be ignored.

Beyond that, it is the usual Love and Blake show. Blake delivers at least one stunner, the sympathetic “Neil Jung,” and you can guess what McGinley’s extended solo on this one sounds like, but that arrives only on the heels of the excellent melody and harmonies. “I’ll Make It Clear” is another classic Blake love song, with simple and direct lyrics; the bridge is very Beatles-esque, and the solo is smooth and graceful. “Tears” is a ballad, albeit a sort of bouncy one, with strings and horns not from Joe McAlinden this time. “Mellow Doubt” is a dark acoustic number (it reminds me a bit of the Connells at first, which is the greatest compliment the Connells will ever receive), energized by handclaps. Finally, closer “Hardcore/Ballad” is pure filler, but the chords of the “hardcore” part hint at a song that could’ve worked.

Love’s songs on this album are among the best TFC tracks ever. The glorious “Sparky’s Dream” is basically a perfect pop song – nothing could have gone better for the band over these three plus minutes. If you were to boil Teenage Fanclub down to just one song, this would be the one you would pick. The guitars of “Don’t Look Back” herald another great song, and they don’t lie. This is a sweet song, with a buttery chorus (“I’d steal a car to drive you home”), and an outstanding but simple solo at the end; the guitar arrangement at the close is one of my favorite things on this album.

Love’s streak continues with crunchy, rollicking “Discolite,” bathed in harmonies and guitars that ring out for eons. I very much enjoy the double snare hits on this song, as well as the bass drum work. The guitar outro is otherworldly. “Going Places” is buried deep in the track listing, which is simply a testament to how good the surrounding songs are. This is a lazy river of a tune, which nonetheless boasts a fine, understated solo.

Overall, new drummer Paul Quinn (Soup Dragons) honors the songs but not so much the spirit; I wonder what the departed Brendan O’Hare, whose manic energy is missed here, could’ve brought to the proceedings.

The Best Thing About This Album

Jesus. Maybe “Sparky’s Dream.”

Release Date

May, 1995

The Cover Art

I don’t love the shiny font but I understand the choice, given the album title. The gleaming black car is a nice touch, and I have to believe served as partial inspiration for Massive Attack’s Mezzanine a few years later.

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